Our friend walks across the lawn into the open air kitchen carrying a stack of books. He had a friend who was an artist. Herb Kawainui Kane.
A Hawaiian artist who painted Hawaii, and what an amazing legacy. His paintings are of old Hawai’i, the romantic paradise, and history like you read about in National Geographic. Historically accurate and visually poetic.
So I peruse these books for a few days and then we are dropped off at Kamehameh Hotel in Kona and there in the lobby is a beautiful display of his original paintings with captions from the books.
These paintings are amazing.
He’s an economical painter, each brushstroke effective, with smooth gradients when needed and the warm red underpainting exposed, too.
Along one clean blue edge a little ridge of paint, the only tiny excess a proof that we are indeed looking at paintings and not prints.
A sunset has a warm red underpainting with pale light blue scudding across and it creates the glowing red light of sunset before the blue sky dissolves. Gorgeous.
Everyone in the painting has brown skin, the dancers and the warriors and the people feel human and wonderful. These are classical paintings. They are very timeless. His lighting is like what if Caravaggio was an impressionist.
I’m incredibly clumsy which is one of the reasons why I really like painting acrylic on canvas. It’s durable and it’s basically Katana proof. Once I even sliced open one of my canvases (how did that even happen?) and had to stitch it up and paint over it.
Don’t worry, a fix for a dent is a lot easier. It just happened to me so I took some photos to share the repair.
I just finished painting a landscape and put it down on a table; I didn’t even see the keys that were sitting on the table. The keys left a dent in the surface of the artwork which doesn’t look good.
Take a note of that curved line because in the next picture you can’t see the dent.
“I like that.” I’m standing behind a woman who is diligently following my instructions in one of my classes.
So of course I like it; we are painting together, sharing inspiration. I feel a warmth for each painting even more than my own. My little idea of a picture, all grown up and being shared with the world and interpreted differently by each pair of eyes.
“But it doesn’t look like yours-” Her face twists up because she can only see the shortcomings, the place where her brush isn’t practiced. “I’m not good enough,” she says;
But she ignores the little zip of red that looks like the edge of a petal, the transition from blue to sea glass green. Those little beautiful moments that I’m looking at. Or even the way that she held the brush that’s different from mine- a little more of the corner, that I’m going to try myself next time I’m experimenting at the easel. That’s what I like and that’s what I tell her.
Sure, I can recommend using more paint or a little more white (seriously, it’s always a little more white paint) or use the edge of the brush. But clarifying those things doesn’t diminish the loveliness of what’s already been painted. And a few wayward marks doesn’t ruin the paintings future.
And I know that nasty voice, I’ve heard it in my head. Wandering through art galleries, where just a brush stroke looks like a shadow, where scribbles look like scudding clouds, that voice says to me “you’ll never be able to paint like that…” I’m sure that voice is why Van Gogh cut off one ear. 😜
I hear it whenever I’m looking at artworks which have credibility because of the wall where they hang and the people who talk about them.
I remind myself that the Salon des Refusès was full of marvelous artists who experienced rejection also, that perhaps there was a time when not even the artist holding the brush believed in its brushstrokes.
There’s no way to know the life the painting will take on once it leaves the easel. Because those rejected works are now the post Impressionist masters. Or maybe your little masterpiece will become a beloved heirloom. You never know.
The factory that turned out urinals never knew that one particular urinal would one day be signed ‘R. Mutt‘ by Marcel duChamp (to say nothing of the fourteen! replicas) And if that counts as priceless art than I think our charming two hour tipsy flower paintings count as art, beautiful art, at that.
I think when you put your happy feelings into the paintings they take you somewhere happy even when the lingering sadnesses of the world are at your door.
It’s not perfect. It doesn’t look like Dali painted it, and it doesn’t look like either Manet or Monet were involved. James Gurney could have made it in half the time and twice as real. Khalo would have a better brow game and O’Keefe wouldn’t have painted a magic carpet at all, ever. The eyes are too small for Keane but so are my own. I painted it, and it has a piece of my soul in it. It’s a dream.
I’ve painted many things and had to practice appreciating my own work, looking at it and finding what I like about it, even when my blending isn’t smooth or my colors are too loud or the proportions are wrong. I’ve had to hear that voice saying “it’s not good enough” about my own work many times. Every time.
One day I was sitting looking at my paintings. I was annoyed that the clouds were too symmetrical and they were dividing the sky in half instead of leading the eye up the canvas to the stars.
My perspective shifted. Casteneda would say my assemblage point moved. Suddenly I could see they were beautiful.
The stars twinkled, the colors were beautiful. It really shone. And I could see what I needed to change in the clouds to help them sing with the canvas.
That’s the artist eye: being able to see what’s beautiful while still imagining an improvement. That something can be beautiful and not finished yet. It’s both.
That’s what I see when I look at my Paint Nite students/partygoers. I can see where their painting has beauty and where they have let the muse hold the brush for a bit- and I can see where just a little more paint would help it sing more clearly. And that, being able to see both the beauty and the room for growth, is why I’m never bullshitting when I say I like someone’s painting.
I am still wondering, How is it possible that this beautiful painting has appeared in front of my paintbrush? That’s the great mystery that artists are after- Like Van Gogh’s high yellow note and Bruce Nauman’s Divine Truth.
I think that, like the people who paint them, every painting contains beauty, regardless of technical skill. I’m not looking for skill- I’m looking for feeling.
At the end of Paint Nite the woman I spoke with poses for photos with her finished work. The photo gives her some distance to see the truth of the painting, separate from the physical paint marks on canvas. Then she realizes it really is beautiful and the negative self talk evaporates into a joyful giddiness over her beautiful painting.
She’s laughing, I’m laughing. It really is beautiful.
Sometimes I have so many paintings in my head- until it’s time to paint. Here’s how I get creative without getting side tracked.When I just jump right into painting, I don’t feel settled and don’t focus as well. I also like to set aside three or four consecutive hours.
A Clean Work Space.
Nothing is more appealing than neatly laid out art supplies, a clean surface, and brushes that are ready to go. It’s also good for clearing your mind and getting excited about what you’re about to do without jumping into the deep end.Being organized as a painter is a challenge but it feels so much better to be busy when there’s not a lot of mental clutter in my space. This is also an invitation for the cat to join in.
Put on some music
More often than not my background noise is the television in the other room, so I’ll put on some music or an audiobook or a guided meditation to listen to while I’m painting, so I get the calm happy thoughts into my paintings.
Pour a drink.
A pot of tea, a glass of juice, a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee; water’s healthy as long as you know which one is paint water and which one is not. Drinking acrylic paint won’t kill you (I’m still alive!) but it tastes terrible.
Get to work!
By now my studio area is looking so appealing that it’s easy to let time vanish and create with my paintbrush.
Yesterday I was painting on my demo paintings so that I could reuse them my stepdaughter Aranna was drawing in a sketchbook and interrupted me to tell me I should do something similar to her favorite things.
I told her if she drew it for me so that I could understand her idea, I would do it. This is her drawing:
When I was using Sketchbook Pro, which I’ve previously lauded as one of the best art apps for iPad, I’d get lost in my work – I loved the app, it did essentially everything I asked it to. But my exported videos would show when I’d zoomed in or out, which meant there was a lot of blank gray space in my videos. And when I was busy working, when time disappeared and things were going great – ZAP! suddenly the app would shut down and I could lose hours of my work.
So I kept looking for a great art app that would let me use my tablet or iPhone just like a sketchbook and I finally found the One. I use it with a regular tablet pen.
My favorite app – the one that I use a lot, that I’m using to create my tarot cards, that I use to create all my digital illustrations – is now exclusively Procreate. Even when Procreate suddenly shuts down, all my work is automatically saved. And every stroke I make is recorded so I can export my whole drawing process as a video when I’m done- here’s a truncated version from the Temperance tarot card I posted to Instagram:
One of my favorite art apps is Made with Paper by FiftyThree. Here are a few of my sketches I’ve made with the app..I love my ipad, it makes it so easy to sketch anywhere without fussing with stacks of paper and ripping pages or spilling watercolors or dropping pastels and mixing colors…. Made with Paper is perfect for on the go sketching because it has a super-simple interface, whereas Sketchbook Pro is more complex and a little slower. I wish I could have an easier time switching between the two, as Made with Paper has fewer but better brushes.
1. Create Space — (the air element; creating supportive thoughts)
light some white sage or incense in the space.
Play a guided meditation or music with the energy I want to paint with.
Make all my materials, tools, water, brushes available in the space.
(This frees my creativity to flow when it knows that the space is safe for it to create in and doesn’t have to worry about plans or cleanliness because it has been prepared for and welcomed in. Begins the process of creativity)
2. Call in the Energies I want to work with – (Water; getting the feelings flowing)
the goddesses or elements I am working with.
My guides and ancestors
The muses and divine inspiration
My own higher perspective
(If this step is forgotten, the work will not flow and will be challenging and I will be distracted)
3. Do The Work (Fire; taking action)
Paint, Draw, Photoshop
(The purpose ; having set the stage, the work can flow smoothly and with ease and purpose)
4. Grounding – Completion (Earth: The Result)
Return to the Square World
Wash brushes, hang up painting to dry, save files.
(If this step is forgotten, the work may be damaged or lost, the materials may become unusable- dried paint in brushes- feeling of incompleteness or having forgotten something)
5. Gratitude: (Spirit: Celebration for completing the work.)
thanks to elements I called in, thanks to the process.
Prayer of thanks.
(If this step is forgotten, either the elements will stick around and cause havoc (like water left unattended, or fire unattended)
or they won’t want to come back when called in the next time because nobody wants to be where they are not appreciated)